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Popular Music from Vittula: A Novel Paperback – October 5, 2004

4.7 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When a Beatles record falls into the hands of 11-year-old Matti, neither he nor his home village of Pajala, Sweden, will ever be the same. It is the early 1960s, and both Matti and Pajala are about to enter adolescence. This is a beautiful, poignant, often very funny novel about growing up in a remote area. Niemi writes with real poetry as he strings together the culturally rich vignettes of Matti's experiences, snapshots of childhood that are at the same time intensely personal and universal: the burn of the first alcoholic drink, the thrill of a first kiss, the awe of first sex, the special closeness of a first best friend, the pain of the first real loss--all rendered pure and convincingly as a young boy's perceptions. Niemi also seasons the book well with the mysticism of childhood that suffuses the usually hidden psychological space where the transformation from child to youth occurs. An exquisitely beautiful novel, artfully translated. Paula Luedtke
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

MIKAEL NIEMI was born in 1959 and grew up in Pajala in the northernmost part of Sweden, near the Finnish border, where he still lives. He is the author of several books of poetry and fiction for both young people and adults.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 237 pages
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press; 58711th edition (October 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583226591
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583226599
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #678,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If you're looking for a funny and tender coming-of-age story set above the Arctic Circle, this is the book for you! It's set in Pajala, a small town in the remote Tornedalen region of Sweden, far north and near the Finnish border. The semi-autobiographical story is told through a series of twenty self-contained short stories that take Matti roughly from age 5-15 or so from the mid-'60s to mid-'70s. One is immediately given a taste of the book's style in the prologue, in which the adult Matti manages to freeze his tongue to a metal plaque atop a Nepalese mountain. He only manages to free himself (and live) by using his urine to break the bond, which then launches him into the story of his youth. The broad outlines of his experiences are similar to those of any other boy growing up in a remote place forty years ago. Life was boring and filled with hard work, some things were manly (hunting, work, fighting, hockey, eating, drinking, machines), and everything else is "women's work." If you're not good at manly things, well... at a minimum you won't fit in very well.

Of course, Matti is a little outside the mainstream, but manages to make his way with best friend Niila by his side. Where the book shines is in the the specifics of his childhood, in which wacky antics shine with humor and pathos, and magic realism rears its head every now and then.
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Format: Hardcover
Usually, it's my husband who keeps me awake laughing at whatever book he's reading in bed. This time, it's my turn! This is the first book in years that has made me laugh out loud over and over again. Yes, it's crude in spots -- but that shouldn't surprise anyone who has spent time with teenage boys. The amusing stories are just part of the author's arsenal of techniques for conveying the sense of living on the very scary edge of reality that comes with growing up.

I'd give a special award to the translator for the freshness of the language. I put this book in a class with the works of Tom Robbins and John Barth and will be looking for more from Mikael Niemi.
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Format: Hardcover
I never stopped laughing while reading this funny yet tender coming of age book set in the Swedish backwater of Pajala in Tornedalen Sweden. North of the Arctic circle on the border of Finland and Sweden lies this small community of survivors in a harsh climate. In a social milieu that rewards heavy manual labor like hunting and logging, there is little room for a young man whose greatest interest is listening to and playing rock and roll music. From descriptions of his six fingered guitar playing music teacher to the limited ability of these northeners to express their feelings, this is a marvelous window on the soul of Pajala. So limited are their communication skills that most social interaction takes place in the context of manly physical contests like arm wrestling or moose hunting. These occassions are liberally lubricated with alcohol of dubious quality. Often they end in alcoholic stupors. Obviously, the dark northern winters take their toll on the residents' psyches. The narrator and main charcter, Matti, has a best fiend whose family is a member of a fundamentalist christian sect. As such Niila is even further deprived of human warmth and conversation. His family would be aghast at their son's interest in rock music. Thus, this interest is secreted in Matti's cellar where they play at being musicians with homemade semblances of instruments. Not until a new music teacher comes from skane to teach at their school do they have the advantage of real instruments. Matti and Niila assume that the music teacher plays authentic american blues because he is from Skane in southern Sweden and therefore familiar with authentic southern american music. Such is their cultural deprivation.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Growing up anyplace isn't smooth, it isn't describable exactly. If you search your memories later, trying to ask why you did something, you can't, for the life of you, remember why. You just did it. Things happened. You tried to get to China. You mimicked the rock stars when you thought you were alone. You might even have licked cold locks---if you grew up in northern climes--- and got your tongue stuck. You were never the hero of your own legend. Well, folks, this novel captures that confusion perfectly. I've never set foot in Sweden, let alone in its far north by the Finnish border, where all the growing up takes place. But now I feel I know what it was like. Niemi's description, magical realism and all, gives you such joy, such interest, that I assure you, you will read POPULAR MUSIC IN VITTULA as quickly as you can. I haven't laughed out loud over a book so much for years. Hey, I even laughed in the Boston subway like some kind of weird, public transport cackler. But I didn't care. Kids fight in the woods with B-B guns, try to start rock bands to impress girls, experiment with sex and alcohol, get up the teacher's nose, visit scary old healers, watch the grownups pass out at huge drinkups, and dream of fast cars. In the very end, things turn out quite differently, but that's really familiar too. Most of the themes are hardly unique to the area, but it's Niemi's genius that he makes you feel it exotic and familiar at the same time. It's contemporary writing at its best and I think all readers in English owe a vote of thanks to the translator too.

You've got to have a strong stomach for a couple sections, say for example, if large piles of dead mice are not your forte.
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